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My Love for Jane Eyre

Alert: Spoilers. If you haven’t read it, (and you really should) then don’t read, it will ruin it.

I was at a reunion, talking with a cousin about books.  She mentioned Jane Austen and some others and then started talking about Jane Eyre.  She wasn’t much of a fan of Jane Eyre because she thinks that Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, not because of who he is, but simply because he’s there.  If it had been any other man there, she would have fallen in love with him instead.  I bristled at this.  How dare anyone attack my precious Jane?  I adore that book.  It may very well be my favorite. However, I didn’t argue with her, simply because I’m bad at arguments.  I can’t think of why I’m right when I’m in the moment; it takes me a while to figure it out.  Perhaps that is why I prefer writing.  I don’t do well thinking on my feet, or more accurately, argueing on my feet.

But I did think about it later and I came to the conclusion that she may be partially right. Having Jane and Rochester as the only two people that they really interract with likely is the catalyst for their relationship. And I’m fine with that. Because isn’t that how most relationships start? Because of our circumstances? Because the boy happened to meet the girl?

But the love story, the actual falling in love is not what makes this story great.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore that part of the story as well.  It doesn’t bother me that the only catalyst for the love is a simple respect and attraction between them.  I have no objection to their falling in love simply because of their circumstances. But that’s not what the story is.  She knows that it makes no real sense for her to be in love with this man – this brooding man, who is rough and rude and not particularly physically attractive and often brusque.  She knows that her loving him is ridiculous and makes no sense.  “I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester; I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me.”

Part of the beauty and genius of this book is that she knows.  She is so entirely self-aware and so entirely in control of herself.  She had learned to love him.  She did not love him at first sight, she had learned to love him over time in spite of his rough exterior, his arrogance and lack of charm.  To me, this is what makes her love so real.  She knew his flaws and loved him anyway.  She had made the choice to love him and so she could not unlove him, regardless of how he treated her.  She had always known that she was below him, that he would not and could not love her in return and she had accepted the situation for what it was.  That she is so entirely practical about it, makes the love so much sweeter and the heartbreak much more acute when we discover his wife.

And that is where the ultimate genius of this book lies.  Because he is in love with her and she’s in love with him and they decide to be married and there is no reason whatsoever for them not to be married.  He doesn’t care one bit what other people think and she had no kin to object even if it was a bad match – she is accountable to no one but herself.  They know each other’s flaws and they love each other anyway.  Of course they should get married.

And then the wife is revealed, the very minute before Jane is to be married to Mr. Rochester.  And so Jane goes to her room, takes off her wedding dress, lays upon her bed and thinks through what she knows she must do without shedding a tear.  There is no decision to be made–no considerations to weigh and stress over–because her path is clear.  He is married, that is all.  When she finally leaves her room and encounters Mr. Rochester, there is no indecision.  It doesn’t matter that she loves him or that his wife is a lunatic forced on him under false circumstances.  He is already married, and so the situation is out of her hands.

That is why I love this book.  Jane’s moral compass is so entirely sure that there is no need for her to even consider falling victim to temptation.  He is married and so she must leave.  She never once tries to justify straying from what she knows to be right.

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  1. Ema Lee Ema Lee

    🙂 So, as I was reading this, something caught my attention at the very beginning.
    “She thinks that Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, not because of who he is, but simply because he’s there. If it had been any other man there, she would have fallen in love with him instead.”

    I instantly thought, ‘Then your cousin must not like Beauty and the Beast. It’s got the same problem. Girl goes to rescue her father. Beast is charmed by her beauty or kindness or the fact that she’s soon the only girl who sees more in him than his fur and fangs.” At this, I suddenly wondered how many plots are like this.
    Tangled: Rapunzel and Eugene meet. They spend an entire two days or so in each others company. You don’t get very many other lovable characters … and WHAM! They’re engaged.
    Sleeping Beauty: Secretly royal Aurora has been hidden away in a forest for years. She finally meets a guy, falls asleep, he rescues her and WHAM! They’re married.
    Cinderella: You have the virtuous and beautiful girl who is serving her wicked and undeserving relatives. She gets special shoes, dances in a secluded balcony for a while with a vague and handsome prince, and then she’s engaged.
    Lion King: Simba has been in exile for years. He meets his childhood friend (stepsister, possibly :-/ ) and they fall in love.
    Snow White: she lives in a castle, nearly dies in a cottage, gets kissed by a prince she’s met once? twice? before in her life, and rides off into the sunset with him.
    Robin Hood: Maid Marian lives with and like a nun. Robin Hood essentially kidnaps her (even though she goes willingly) and they remember their childhood and fall in love.
    Frozen: lol. Anna lives in seclusion. In a locked castle. With only old servants and paintings. she goes to a dance, falls in love with a handsome face, then turns around and falls in love with a kind man … the first two men she has met for years …
    Princess Bride: Buttercup is a spoiled girl who has stuck to her farm and her horse her whole life. Wesley, the farmhand, the only guy we hear about at this farm, falls in loves with her and gets her to return his love.
    Howl’s Moving Castle: Sophie heads off to clean out a wizard’s house after years of seclusion in a hat shop. Sophie and Howl, after a while, fall in love and get married after their mutual curses are broken.
    Hunger Games: … I’m not even going to go into this one. But really? One girl gets intense interest from two guys who have apparently liked her her whole life … secretly. *groan* The romance in this one is so messed up for other reasons two.

    And I’m not trying to criticize your cousin or these stories. I like a lot of these, actually! I’m sure your cousin is a nice person. I was just interested by how many well-known plots have this issue. These are ‘magical’ ‘beautiful’ ‘fairytale’ stories. Food for thought …

  2. Ema Lee Ema Lee

    I forgot to add Tarzan (Tarzan and Jane) 1001 Nights (lots of poor princesses get kidnapped randomly and married to the guys), The Brave Tin Soldier (Tin Soldier and Ballerina), Maleficent (Maleficent and Stephen at the beginning), Cars (Lightning and Sallie), Avatar the Last Airbender (Aang and Katara) …
    Again, I’m not criticizing. But think through your favorite movies/TV shows and books! This happens soooooo much.

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